Disarmament Insight

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unacceptable Harm: Geneva launch



On Friday UNIDIR launched a new book I wrote entitled Unacceptable Harm: A History of How the Treaty to Ban Cluster Munitions Was Won at the Palais des Nations, the home of the United Nations in Geneva.

Chaired by the Norwegian Permanent Mission in Geneva, the lunchtime event featured four speakers: Dr. Gro Nystuen (Chair of the Council on Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global), Richard Moyes (policy and research director at Landmine Action and co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC)), the CMC’s Coordinator Thomas Nash, and myself. Turn-out was very good, with a full room and some interesting discussion following the presentations.

The chair of the meeting, Norwegian diplomat Hilde Skorpen, recalled the origins of the project. It grew out of a proposal I made in 2007 to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For several years, we at UNIDIR had carried out research analysing a range of negotiating processes as part of a project on Disarmament as Humanitarian Action : Making Multilateral Negotiations Work, and in the course of that work we found a lacuna in the policy and academic literature on the landmine negotiations : while some good stuff had been written about the Ottawa process, no narrative historical framework existed to tell the story of the achievement of the Mine Ban Treaty as a coherent whole – from its origins to its agreement – for a wide audience.

Memories fade quickly, and hindsight can obscure what we can learn from success and failure in multilateral negotiations. Myths can arise and take hold. This isn’t necessarily helpful when it comes to try to distill lessons learned with a view to improving the performance of multilateral negotiators. So my proposal on UNIDIR’s behalf was a simple one : shouldn’t someone try to capture what would happen on cluster munitions ; that is, if we really are to learn and so improve our performance as negotiators?

This idea must have seemed a little risky. At that stage nobody knew how the emerging Oslo process or in the CCW would turn out! To their credit the Norwegians decided to fund the project. (And then, like a good funder of such research should, they stood back to let us get on with it.)

The rest, as they say, is history. A history though that would be a larger and more complicated task than we originally envisaged in researching and writing ‘Unacceptable Harm’…

But now the book is 'out there'. Thanks to all of the speakers and those who came out for the launch on a cold, bright Geneva day. With Unacceptable Harm no longer under embargo, those readers who are on UNIDIR’s publication circulation list or those (like a considerable number of CMC campaigners) who have placed orders for the book should receive their copies through the mail before too long. In due course the book should also become available in the UN's bookshops in Geneva and New York, and eventually on Amazon.

There will be further events associated with the launch of the book in the New Year. We’re anticipating something in Oslo on 12 January and perhaps elsewhere. Read this blog for further updates.

John Borrie

Photo courtesy of Tamar Gabelnick, International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More Unacceptable Harm


The second review conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention commenced yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia, which is obviously this week’s big news on the multilateral conventional weapons front. Good luck to all of the folks over there and congratulations to a regime that despite its ongoing implementation challenges has retained its vitality after a decade and made a positive difference to people’s lives on the ground in many mine-affected countries. Even the United States – which, to date has resisted joining the regime – recognizes this: it’s attending the summit as an observer. (It would be even better if the US would choose to come in from the cold and join the treaty, which already has 156 state parties.)

We have a bit of a news of our own: the history I’ve been working on for the last two years of international efforts to deal with the humanitarian impacts of another problematic weapon, cluster munitions, is now printed.

The book is entitled Unacceptable Harm: A History of How the Treaty to Ban Cluster Munitions Was Won. The cover image (see above) is of a French F.1 ‘Ogre’ submunition, with the gracious permission of the French artist and photographer Raphael Dallaporta. There are also colour plates in the middle of the book, with some great images by the Norwegian photographer Werner Anderson and others. The book also has a foreword written by Dr. Eric Prokosch, one of the pioneer researchers on cluster munitions, and author of the classic book The Technology of Killing: A Military and Political History of Anti-Personnel Weapons (1995).

Unacceptable Harm explains how the Convention on Cluster Munitions was achieved through the ‘Oslo process’, a partnership of governments, international organizations and civil society not unlike the one that resulted in the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in 1997. The book examines why it took the world so long to act on cluster munitions, why it eventually did, and what lessons banning cluster munitions might hold for future efforts on a pressing challenge of our time: protecting civilians from the effects of explosive weapons. (For further info on explosive weapons, see also Landmine Action's recent report).

The book will initially be launched in Geneva on 11 December, to be followed by events in Oslo and elsewhere in early 2010. Stay tuned to the blog for further updates.

John Borrie